Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006
"My Name is Rachel Corrie" - a play based on the words of the American peace activist crushed to death three years ago by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza - is causing controversy after the New York City theater that was scheduled to run it postponed production. We host a discussion with Katharine Viner, the editor of the play in London and James Nicola and Lynn Moffat, the two top directors of the New York Theatre Workshop. We turn now to the controversy over the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie," which is based on the words of the late U.S. peace activist.
Three years ago this month Corrie died at the age of 23 after she was crushed by an Israeli military bulldozer. At the time Corrie was attempting to block the demolition of the home of a Palestinian doctor in the Gaza town of Rafah.
The play opened last year in London to rave reviews and sold out audiences. It was scheduled to come to New York and open tonight at the celebrated off-Broadway New York Theatre Workshop.
But there will be no opening night.
In late February, the theater announced it was indefinitely postponing production of the play due to the current political climate.
The theater's artistic director James Nicola told the Guardian of London: "In our pre-production planning and our talking around and listening in our communities in New York, what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon's illness and the election of Hamas, we had a very edgy situation." Nicola went on to say, "We found that our plan to present a work of art would be seen as us taking a stand in a political conflict, that we didn't want to take."
But the theater has been accused of political censorship. The co-creator of the play, Alan Rickman responded by saying, "This is censorship born out of fear" and that the theater had effectively canceled the play.
Today, in a broadcast exclusive, we host a discussion between one of the creators of "My Name is Rachel Corrie" and the New York theater group that postponed the production of the play.
In London we are joined by Katharine Viner, the co-editor and co-producer of "My Name is Rachel Corrie." She is an editor at the Guardian newspaper in London. Here in our New York studio we are joined by James Nicola, the artistic director at the New York Theatre Workshop as well as the theater's managing director Lynn Moffat.
Katharine Viner, the co-editor and co-producer of "My Name is Rachel Corrie." She is an editor at the Guardian newspaper in London.
- Read Viner's article: "A Message Crushed Again"
James Nicola, artistic director at the New York Theatre Workshop.
Lynn Moffat, managing director of the New York Theatre Workshop.
This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
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AMY GOODMAN: Today, in a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive, we host a discussion between one of the creators of the play, My Name is Rachel Corrie and the New York theater group that postponed the production of the play. In London, we're joined by Katharine Viner. She’s the co-editor and co-producer of My Name is Rachel Corrie. She's editor at the Guardian newspaper in London. Here in our New York studio, we’re joined by James Nicola. He is the artistic director at the New York Theatre Workshop, as well as the theater's managing director, Lynn Moffat. And we welcome you all to Democracy Now!
Well, why don't we begin with you, Jim Nicola, about this play, about My Name Is Rachel Corrie, about its plans for production, opening night tonight, and why it was cancelled or indefinitely postponed?
JAMES NICOLA: Sure. Well, I would want to go back a little bit to my original reading of the play, which was inspiring and moving, and I really connected to what Katharine Viner and Alan Rickman were trying to do in their portrait, which, in any artist who is approaching a character or subject, shapes the material into something. And they said, as in Katharine said, what did she want people to feel or think about when they walk out of the play; she said to feel inspired to go out and do something about the world's inequalities. And I thought that was an excellent thing to put forward in New York.
All of us Americans, myself included, live in some sort of fog of avoidance and denial, and here was a beautiful example of someone who pierced through that and did something and made a commitment. I also thought a lot about my nieces and nephews who are roughly her age now, and I see how they’re living, and I thought she would be a wonderful example to them, to all of us. But this portrait that they wanted to create was about -- they had a very particular view, which I really supported and believed in, which is the example she set with her life. And they wanted to keep at bay, for the sake of this argument, this portrait, many -- anybody who would walk in with any particular idea or bias or view and say, just for the sake of this argument, ‘Look at this beautiful act of commitment and courage and idealism, and let's hold our thoughts and just study that example.’ And that was what we were trying to fight for. And on this very short time frame that we had to mount this, we didn't realize at the beginning the complexity of that task.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, before we talk about the controversy over the staging of this and what happened, let's turn to Katharine Viner, co-editor and co-producer of My Name is Rachel Corrie, and start at the beginning. Tell us about this play, how you came to edit it, and why we call you co-editor, as opposed to playwright.
KATHARINE VINER: Right. Well, it all began just after Rachel was killed. Her family released lots of her emails home from Gaza, and they were published around the world, including in the Guardian, which is the newspaper I work for in London. And they were astounding. They were so powerful and evocative and moving. And Alan Rickman, the Hollywood actor, he saw them and got very excited and took them to the Royal Court Theatre and said these should make a play. These are fantastic. And I was asked to get involved at that point. And we approached Rachel’s family to ask for permission, and obviously that was a very hard time for them. And they said, “You know, we love theater, but, you know, give us some time. We need to think about this.” And then, I think it was about a year later, they came back to us.
And in that meantime, we had been really thinking about how we could do this. We were thinking of doing a patchwork of voices, voices from Rachel's friends in Olympia, Washington, which is where she was from, her friends in Gaza, fellow activists, Israeli soldiers. We were imagining sort of creating a whole patchwork of a play. But then, suddenly there landed on our doorstep 184 pages of Rachel's words, and her family had gone and discovered all these journals that she had left behind in her bedroom, and they had typed them up for us, which was a real emotional task, as you can imagine. And they were her journals from the age of ten.
And you can imagine, we were so excited about this, and we realized that we didn't need to be playwrights. We just needed to edit Rachel’s words, that Rachel could tell her story all on her own. And so then, the patchwork was just moving around Rachel’s words, timings. And, in fact, the first third of the play is before she even goes to Gaza, and it’s her packing in her bedroom, finding old journals, telling stories about bumping into ex-boyfriends or her job or female friends or just being an ordinary teenager, before she made the big decision to go to Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, you staged this at the Royal Court Theatre in London?
KATHARINE VINER: That’s right, yes. Now, we staged it in April last year and, in fact, it was sort of this huge success immediately. We were very shocked, because obviously it was a small play about, you know -- and a political play. I mean, there was a trend for political theater in London at the moment, but we hadn't realized quite how successful it would be. And, in fact, the Royal Court said it was their fastest sellout in their 50-year history. And this is the theater -- Look Back in Anger - their biggest sellout in their 50-year history, which is fantastic. And there were lines of people waiting outside the theater every night for returns. So, we quickly brought it back to a larger theater, also at the Royal Court, which was also a sellout. And next week, in fact, when the New York transfer was canceled, a West End producer stepped in, and now the play is transferring to the West End next week. The West End is the equivalent of Broadway. So, we're hoping it’s going to be a major commercial success, as well as a major artistic success.
AMY GOODMAN: So, now let's go to what happened in New York. The play was presented to the New York Theatre Workshop. You read it, Jim. You loved it. You said, ‘Let’s go with it.’
JAMES NICOLA: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: And the schedule was set. Then what happened?
JAMES NICOLA: Well, we started onto our usual process of how do you make the pathway for a writer's voice, you know, publicly, from -- it goes from the page to the stage, and then you have to bring people to it. And I took very seriously this desire of Katharine Viner and Alan Rickman to find this place where people could feel safe and free to suspend their points of view, to listen to Rachel and to look at Rachel in this particular way. And then -- certainly I am more educated now on this whole conflict than I was at the start of it. And, in fact, I look back six, eight weeks, and I feel like I'm a different person. But as we started to learn and listen, that task just seemed to get bigger and more complicated. In addition to other production logistical questions because of the short timeframe, were also growing concerns. So -- we -- maybe, Lynn, you might want to talk a little about that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, before, Lynn, you speak, we’re going to go to break, and then we’ll come back to this discussion. We're talking about the controversy over the play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, that was supposed to open in New York tonight. Our guests are Jim Nicola and Lynn Moffat. They are the two directors of the New York Theatre Workshop, and in London, we're joined by Katharine Viner, the co-editor and co-producer of the play that is now in London.